Saturday, December 14, 2013

Don’t count on us

Along with neglecting my own blog, I’ve been neglecting others’ too. But fortunately I had a little time to kill the other day. I spent it cheerfully catching up with the group you see over in the righthand column.

Endurance Granny’s tale of being a pariah when asking ahead of time for a riding buddy touched a bit of a nerve with me… and also reminded me that I never really told you guys about our ride at Foothills. These topics are somewhat related.

Foothills was way back on October 19—several centuries ago in house-buying time.
It was a beautiful weekend. The weather was custom-made for riding. It was in the 60s. Sparkling sun on fall colors.

And I was escorting a newbie. (Not a junior, just a newbie.)

I have been a lot of things over the years. I have been the newbie who doesn’t know how to get through a vet check. I’ve been the one on the young, green horse. I’ve been the one on the crazy, dangerous, fire-breathing spook monster. I’ve been the one using other people as a backstop. I’ve been the one using other people to drag me along. I’ve been the person who didn’t think electrolytes were necessary. (I’ve been the one who didn’t even know what they were.) I’ve been the one who rode into camp oblivious to the hopping-lame horse. I’m the one who has fallen off… a lot. And I’ve gotten caught up riding other people’s rides instead of my own.

That last thing is why I always hesitate to commit to ride with another person.
At Foothills, I offered to escort a first-timer who had come with an experienced rider who was doing a different distance. I hoped that it would end up being a lot like my ride with Evita and Corky at OR100. A young person and an athletic horse would keep me and Blue interested and steadily moving forward.

Instead, my partner at Foothills turned out to be delightful company… and a terrible match for me and Blue.

I’m going to give you a list of some of our incompatibilities for educational purposes. These are things to think about before you try to ride with a partner.

Our horses’ gaits didn’t match up. Her horse had a slow walk and a powerful trot. Blue is pretty much the opposite. When we were walking, she couldn’t use me to block her horse’s energy because Blue kept getting ahead too far. At the trot, her horse would get frustrated at Blue’s steady 6 mph. He’d then pass us very fast before getting worried about being alone and having a mini-meltdown.

Our horses’ fitness didn’t match up. The experienced rider who brought my newbie was fairly sure that her horse could do the 25 miles, and pushed her to do the LD instead of the trail ride. I will say the little guy valiantly tried.
Unfortunately, he spent way too much energy on his racebrain at the start. There wasn’t much left at the end, and we were very close to going overtime. I put myself in a very hard position—where encouraging this newbie was pitted against my knowledge that I could easily complete the ride on time if I left her behind.

She didn’t know what to expect from her horse. As the newbie’s horse began showing signs of tiredness, she would ask me to slow down to a walk, or would get down and try to jog with him. She was waiting for his breath to even out or for him to offer energy like he had at the beginning.

I asked her what he’s normally like after a long ride like this, but she didn’t know. In much the same boat I was last year after 36 miles, she was trying to do right by the little guy without knowing if anything was wrong.

My own horse is lazy and tends to pant. That’s just the way he is; I’ve learned not to worry too much when he pretends that he is about to drop dead on the trail. So, frankly, I was annoyed to be slowing down for a horse that might or might not be in any distress. I was especially miffed because these little episodes kept happening on nice, level areas where I would have been making up time if I were by myself.

Foothills is a very cerebral ride in that you have to judge the safe places to go fast—there aren’t a whole lot. You can’t waste those opportunities if you want to complete.

We had different e-lyte protocols. Eventually, I asked her how much electrolyte she had given him because am imbalance might explain why he seemed sluggish. I think you can guess the answer. She hadn’t given any. I assumed (foolishly) that she had been using powder in his feed the same way that I did when I was new. Well, no. She was very near tears at this point as her horse seemed to be giving up… and so was she. I gave her one of my spare syringes for him. I was pretty sure that camp was nearby in case of a real emergency.

We were a personality mismatch. You might make the argument that my confidence and determination on the trail are a result of being an experienced LD rider. I tend to believe that it is more my cold-fish nature coming out in a time of stress.

I have yet to experience the emotional extremes of distance riding myself, so I don’t really know how to react when I see it happening to others.

My newbie partner was frustrated, tired, worried about her horse and just unprepared overall for the grit that distance (even relatively short distance) demands of you. I’m fairly certain she spent the last two or three miles of the ride thinking terrible things about me, my horse and our sport, glaring daggers into my back.

No, I wasn’t mean to her! But I’m also not exactly a motivational speaker. I was pragmatic:  This is roughly how far we’ve gone. This is how much is left. There is nothing I can do for you or your horse out here in the wilderness. Camp is where the real help is. It’s just a few more miles. Focus on finishing.

I could tell she really needed someone more motherly and understanding. Sorry, toots. The only way I’ve ever finished is to just keep riding.

With much cajoling, we finished with about 10 minutes to spare.
It was a relief in more ways than one.

Here’s the thing about personalities. Remember that personality test I did for work? Basically, according to the test, there are four ways a person can be. You can be any combination of them from perfectly equal to split between two to leaning hard one way.

Analyticals look at the facts to make a decision. In their world, any problem can be solved by applying the correct information. On the trail, analyticals are the people who have mentally mapped out every step of the ride and stick to the plan to achieve their stated goal.

Drivers are goal oriented in the extreme. They are always in a hurry and often make snap decisions without taking time to think things through. On the trail, this is the person who planned on riding a steady ride but throws that plan out the window to gallop into the top ten.

Amiables are your self-denying, motherly types. They just want everyone to be happy, even if they have to hurt themselves in order to help others. This is the person who stops to help an injured horse or rider, often at the cost of her own completion. Bless the amiables. They are the glue.

Expressives are your daydreamers and talkers. They lose sight of finishing because they live in the moment. On the trail, this is the person who is more interested in photo opportunities and stories of long-ago rides than keeping an eye out for ribbons.

At work, I am the only “Analytical” in my office. On the trail, I’m still an Analytical…  with serious Driver tendencies. :) The people I most often ride with tend to be Amiable and Amiable-Analytical.

Do you recognize yourself? Your friends? Your favorite riding buddy? Tell me all about it in the comments!